In a recent issue of the Washington Post Magazine, Susan Baer wrote a very touching story, “A family learns the true meaning of the vow ‘in sickness and in health.’” It tells of the marriage of Page and Robert Melton, a marriage that was a happy one with two little girls and everything positive going for them. This all changed in 2003, when Robert had a heart attack and stopped breathing for at least 30 minutes.
The cardiologist gave a grim diagnosis: “Robert would either not make it, survive in a persistent vegetative state or, best-case scenario, come back but not resemble the man [Page] knew.”
To Page’s credit, she said to bring him back. The result was the best-case scenario: Robert survived but had a profound cognitive loss. After some improvement because of rehab therapy he was transferred to an assisted-living facility.
Page remained the dutiful wife, living up to her vows of “in sickness and in health” by being there doing what she could for Robert -- visiting every day, at first, then every other day -- and raising their two daughters.
In 2008, however, the story took a twist. Page attended her 25th college reunion and reconnected with an old classmate, Allan. Allan was in the middle of a divorce, and one thing led to another, and before you knew it they were spending more time together and Page was liking being able to talk to an adult. She started to have feelings, but felt that if they were more than friends she would be disloyal to Robert.
Allen told her two things. First, when she said she was resigned to living alone, he said, “You can’t. Your heart is way too big for that.” Secondly, he said, “I see this responsibility that you have, and I want to help you with it. I understand this is a package deal.”
How inviting that must have seemed to Page. Here was a man that was going to allow her to have her cake and eat it too. She would fulfill her vow of in sickness and in health, plus still have a vibrant marriage, but with a different man. But as great as that sounded, she was racked with guilt and even consulted with her minister -- who gave her the permission she needed by telling her that “by continuing to take care of Robert, she was still honoring those vows.”
So Page divorced Robert, became his legal guardian, married Allan, and they all lived happily ever after. Allan has lived up to his promise and Robert is indeed being taken care of and is part of this new extended family.
I have a major problem with this scenario.
It reminds me of Eve’s temptation in the Garden, where the serpent told Eve the words she wanted to hear and she gave in. Page made vows to Robert and -- to borrow a phrase from Allan --those vows are a package deal. You don’t pick and choose which ones you keep. Her initial view was correct, because in the end she was disloyal to Robert.
You might say, wait a minute -- isn’t she keeping her vow of in sickness and in health? The answer is no. The vows we take when we get married say we will remain faithful, forsaking all others, for richer or for poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Page is soothing her guilty conscience by still taking care of her first husband, but she isn’t forsaking all others, and her minister should have known that. That's the operative vow. In sickness and in health is only one of the conditions in which we must remain faithful.
Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly empathize with Page. Having taken care of my late wife throughout her battle with lung cancer, I know how tough it can be. I was going on only two to three hours of sleep a night, trying to do my fulltime job and take care of her and run the household. I can see the appeal when someone comes along and tells a caretaking spouse the things she wants to hear, because I had that happen to me. Hospice told me that if I needed a break, they could arrange for Judy to be in their facility for seven days. They said I could then be able to sleep in, read a book, or visit with friends. How wonderful that sounded . . . but in the end I felt Judy needed me more than I needed sleep or to read, so I turned it down.
Love is sacrificial even when it’s tough, even when it will be long term, even when it means giving up intimacy or peace of mind.
What if Robert had been poor rather than brain damaged? What if he had no chance of making any money? Then what if Allan were super rich, and came along and told her those same things? He promised to take care of Robert financially for the rest of his life. Then Page divorced Robert and married Allan. Even if Allan kept his promise, would you agree that Page was living up to her vow for richer and for poorer? Would you say how unfair it would be for Page to live in poverty? Or would you disagree with her actions?
Sacrificial love has no limit on it. Jesus showed us that. God also doesn’t give caveats to our vows.
When Page married Robert, she freely made her vow. One might even say she recklessly made it. But Ecclesiastes 5:5 says, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.”
In the Washington Post's view, Page Melton Ivie may have found the perfect solution. But someday she will have to stand before God and explain why she put herself before her vows to God and to Robert. Dennis Babish is a Centurion and a blogger for the BreakPoint Blog.
Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.